Saturday, 5 March 2016

The concept of shubha-labha in the eyes of a business yogi

In Indian business establishments one usually comes across the words, “shubha-labha” written at or near auspicious places. Shubha-labha means pious profit. It implies that profit which is incurred through righteous means. Profits thus earned are always beneficial and leads to further prosperity and well being of the society. Such inscribed words are a reminder and a source of motivation to the people of the enterprise to act in a right dutiful way.

However, in present times it is increasingly felt that the word ‘shubha’ in ‘shuhba-labha’ has lost its significance and ‘labha’ has become the focal point of achievement by whatever means; pious or impious. Negative values like self-centeredness, corruption, untruthfulness, exploitation of people and natural resources are on a rise everywhere, despite enormous progress in the education.  Profits thus earned have got its own negative impact on the individuals and society. The breeding ground of such negativity is the ignorance of the reality of self and the world around us.

Teaching of Bhagavad-Gita can help in understanding the concept of ‘shubha-labha’ in an effective way. Bhagavad-Gita, commonly known as ‘The Gita” is a dialogue between lord Krishna and his friend Arjuna which took place in the midst of the battlefield of Kurushetra at the dawn of the great war. The objective of this dialogue was to bring clarity in Arjuna’s mind regarding his duties as a warrior and the attitude with which to carry on his work; here ‘fighting’. These teachings can also be beautifully applied to another kind of work arena; that is ‘business’.

One of the primary objectives of a business enterprise is to earn profit. Earning profit is not bad but what matters is how it is earned and spend. Hindu philosophy believes in the law of ‘karma’. This law emphasises that every right action reaps good results and every wrong action brings about harmful results. This triggers endless cycles of viscious circles in which a person finds himself trapped in these complex times as it is not easy to determine what is right and what is wrong. What is right in one culture, it may be wrong in another culture or visa-versa. Also every action is like a coin; having both sides of good and bad results.

In Gita, Krishna says to Arjuna; “Be a yogi and fight”. Had there been a businessman in place of Arjuna, Krishna would have said “Be a yogi and do your work". Who is a yogi then? Gita says, yoga is the equanimity of the mind. A yogi is one who has an equinomous mind and remains undisturbed in all circumstances and dualities of life, whether it be pleasure or pain, gain or loss, victory or defeat. The question then arises, how such a state of mind can be achieved and maintained? Krishna answers this question by explaining Arjuna that under illusion you think and feel that you are your body and mind, limited and mortal, but in reality you are the soul; the universal consciousness, which is ever existant, infinite, immortal and one. Krishna tells Arjuna,"I am Arjuna and you (Arjuna) is Krishna only. Learning this truth, overcome your fears and doubts; arise and fight." This knowledge of being infinite, immortal and one and firm abidance in it leads one to be a yogi.

Krishna also explains how a yogi goes about doing his work. He says, a yogi does that work which is in accordance to his nature (swa-dharma), following the spirit of exchange and interdependence (yagna); a concept necessary for the functioning of the world; without any attachment to the results of his action (nishkam-karma), and for the well-being of the world and its people (lok-sangraha).

A businessman thus performing his work with full awareness of the reality of his being is fit to be called a yogi and the profits (labha) thus incurred will always be pious (shubha). Infact, it can confidently be said that the outcome of the activities of a true yogi will always be pious. This is stated very clearly in the last shloka of the Gita, where Sanjay, narrator of the Gita to Dhritrashtra says; "where there is Krishna, lord of  the Yoga and Arjuna, the archer;  there fortune, victory, abundance and morality exist.” It implies work performed with yogic mindset will always be pious (shubha).   

Monday, 20 April 2015

Linkage between Swa-Dharma & Self-Actualization

(Article was published in Journal of Business & Management, Volume 8, Number 1, June 2013, Department of Business Administration, University of Rajasthan, Jaipur.)

Performance of work in accordance to one’s intrinsic nature, talents, capacities and potentials leads to self-fulfillment and inner satisfaction. This fact has been emphasised by Krishna in Bhagavad-Gita as swa-dharma and also by Abraham Maslow in his self-actualization theory. Linkage between the two clarifies the concepts and highlights their relevance for business organisations. 


 In recent times there has been a conscious effort to find application of spirituality in workplace. India has a rich spiritual history and is the birth place of the earliest spiritual philosophies. Hindu spiritual philosophy has a vast literature from where many concepts and lessons can be drawn which have got immense relevance and importance for management of business enterprises. One such concept is swa-dharma about which Lord Krishna talks in one of the sacred book named “Bhagavad-Gita”. Self-actualization is another concept given by psychologist Abraham Maslow. This paper is about understanding swa-dharma in light of self-actualization theory and its relevance to business organization.


In Bhagavad-Gita, when Arjuna refuses to fight, Krishna laid immense stress on performing swa-dharma duties. Swa-dharma means work in accordance to one’s nature. (Aurobindo, 2010 p. 13 )

Krishna in Gita explained swa-dharma of a priest, warrior, businessman and a serviceman;

I created mankind in four classes,
Different in their qualities and actions
(Miller 1986, (4.13))
The actions of priests, warriors,
commoners and servants
are apportioned by qualities
 born of their intrinsic being.
(Miller 1986, (18.41))

Tranquillity, control, penance,
purity, patience and honesty,
knowledge, judgement, and piety
are intrinsic to the action of a priest.
(Miller 1986, (18.42))

Heroism, fiery energy, resolve,
skill, refusal to retreat in battle,
charity, and majesty in conduct are
intrinsic to the action of a warrior.
(Miller 1986, (18.43))

Farming, herding cattle, and commerce
are intrinsic to the action of a commoner;
action that is essentially service
is intrinsic to the servant.
(Miller 1986, (18.44))

Krishna further explained to Arjuna;  

Look to your duty;
 do not tremble before it;
 nothing is better for a warrior
than a battle of sacred duty.
(Miller 1986, (2.31))

The doors of heaven open
 for warriors who rejoice
to have a battle like this
thrust on them by chance.
(Miller 1986, (2.32))

If you fail to wage this war
of sacred duty,
you will abandon your own duty
and fame only to gain evil.
(Miller 1986, (2.33))

Even a man of knowledge behaves
 in accord with his own nature;
creatures all confirm to nature;
 what can one do to restrain them?
(Miller 1986, (3.33))


(Maslow 1987, p.168) described self-actualization as the full use and exploitation of talents, capacities, potentialities and the like.

 “It refers to people’s desire for self-fulfilment, namely the tendency for them to become actualised in what they are potentially. This tendency might be phrased as the desire to become more and more what one is, to become everything that one is capable of becoming." (Maslow 1987, p.64)

On self-actualizing individuals (Maslow 1987, p.168) noted; “Such people seem to be fulfilling themselves and to be doing the best that they are capable of doing. They are people who have developed or are developing to the full stature of which they are capable.”

 Swa-Dharma & Self-Actualization

Krishna’s emphasis on performing swa-dharma duties can be understood and realized in light of self-actualization theory. Maslow explained self-actualization as a need or desire to use and exploit one’s talent, capacities and potentialities.

On understanding Krishna’s discourse on swa-dharma in context of self-actualization theory, it can be clearly realized that why Krishna was emphasising Arjuna to perform his swa-dharma duties i.e. to fulfil his self-actualizing drive.

 When the voice to actualize ones potentials is not heard, it leads to dissatisfaction, uneasiness and frustration in life. (Maslow 1998 p.13-14) noted; “What happens then to the one who denies this unique responsibility? Who doesn’t listen to his call-note? Or who can’t hear at all anymore? Here we can certainly talk about intrinsic guilt, or intrinsic unsuitability, like a dog trying to walk on his hind legs, or a poet trying to be a good businessman, or a businessman trying to be a poet. It just doesn’t fit; it doesn’t suit; it doesn’t belong. One must respond to one’s fate or one’s destiny or pay a heavy price. One must yield to it; one must surrender to it. One must permit one’s self to be chosen”.

(Maslow 1999, p.194) further noted; “Part of this core (of human nature) are certain preferences and yearnings that may be considered to be intrinsic, biologically based values, even through weak ones. All the basic needs fall into this category and so do all the inborn capacities and talents of the individual. I do not say these are “oughts” and “moral imperatives,” at least not in the old, external sense. I say only that they are intrinsic to human nature and that furthermore their denial and frustration make for psychopathology and therefore for evil, for though not synonymous, pathology and evil certainly overlap.”

 In Gita, Krishna also warned Arjuna;

Your own duty done imperfectly is
better than another man’s done well.
It is better to die in one’s own duty;
 another man’s duty is perilous.
(Miller 1986, (3.35))

Better to do one’s own duty imperfectly
then to do another man’s well;

doing action intrinsic to his being,

a man avoids guilt.

(Miller 1986, (18.47))

Krishna advised Arjuna not to give up his swa-dharma (self-actualizing work) under any circumstances;

 Arjuna,a man should not
relinquish action he is born to,
even if it flawed;
all undertakings are
marred by a flaw,
 as fire is obscured by smoke.”
(Miller 1986, (18.48))

(Maslow 1987, p. 64) noted; “Musicians must make music, artists must paint, poets must write, if they are to be ultimately at peace with themselves. What humans can be they must be. They must be true to their own nature. This need we may call Self-Actualization.”

Krishna also warns Arjuna that his determination of not fighting is futile since by his nature he will be compelled to do so;  

Your resolve is futile
if a sense of individuality
makes you think, - “I shall not fight” –
nature will compel you to.
(Miller 1986, (18.59))

You are bound by your own action,
intrinsic to your being Arjuna;
 even against your will you must do
what delusion now makes you refuse.
(Miller 1986, (18.60))

Further Krishna tells Arjuna that by following his swa-dharma a person can reach the state of self-realization. He stated (Miller 1986);

Each one achieves success
By focusing on his own action.
(Miller 1986, (18.45))

Here word success means self-realization.

Maslow(1999, p. 173-174) also had a similar insight; “If the various extant religions may be taken as expressions of human aspiration, i.e., what people would like to become if only they could, then we can see here too a validation of the affirmation that all people yearn toward self-actualization or tend toward it. This is so because our description of the actual characteristics of self-actualizing people parallels at many points the ideals urged by the religions, e.g., the transcendence of self, the fusion of the true, the good and the beautiful, contribution to others, wisdom, honesty, and naturalness, the transcendence of selfish and personal motivations, the giving up of “lower” desires in favour of “higher” ones, increased friendliness, and kindness, the easy differentiation between ends (tranquillity, serenity, peace) and means (money, power, status), the decrease of hostility, cruelty and destructiveness.”
Relevance to Business Organization

The stress laid down by both Maslow and Krishna on self-actualizing work is due to the fact that it leads one towards fulfilment, completeness, well being, self-transcendence and self-realization.

(Maslow 1971, p.44) noted; Self-actualization means experiencing fully, vividly, selflessly, with full concentration and total absorption. It means experiencing without the self-consciousness. At this moment of experiencing, the person is wholly and fully human. This is self-actualizing moment. This is the moment when the self is actualizing itself.”                                                           

It is during these self-actualizing moments that a person experiences a state which Maslow called peak experience. (Maslow 1987,p. 206) states; “For one thing, not only the world but also he himself becomes more a unity, more integrated, and self-consistent. This is another way of saying that he becomes more completely himself, idiosyncratic, unique. And since he is so, he can be more easily expressive and spontaneous without effort. All his powers then come together in their most efficient integration and coordination, organized and coordinated much more perfectly than usual. Everything then can be done with unusual ease and lack of effort. Inhibition, doubt, control, self-criticism, diminish toward a zero point and he becomes the spontaneous, coordinated, efficient organism, functioning like an animal without conflict or split, without hesitation or doubt, in a great flow of power that is so peculiarly effortless, that it may become like play, masterful, virtuso-like. In such a moment, his powers are at their height and he may be startled (afterwards) by his unsuspected skill, confidence, creativeness, perceptiveness and virtuosity of performance. It is all so easy that it can be enjoyed and laughed with. Things can be dared that would be impossible at other times. To put it simply, he becomes more whole and unified, more unique and idiosyncratic, more alive and spontaneous, more perfectly expressive and uninhibited, more effortless and powerful, more daring and courageous (leaving fears and doubts behind), more ego-transcending and self-forgetful.”

It is this state of being that is of immense relevance to business organization. People who are doing their natural intrinsic work are more productive and satisfied.

(Fleming 2007,p.43) noted; “Socrates expressed the same sentiments in Plato’s Republic more than 24 centuries ago: We are not all alike; there are diversities of natures among us which are adapted to different occupations...We must infer that all things are produced more plentifully and easily and of a better quality when one man does one thing which is natural to him and does it at the right time, and leaves other things.” 

In Bhagavad-Gita, it appears that Krishna’s concern was not whether Arjuna will fight or not. His concern was, with what attitude Arjuna will fight. Whether he will fight in ignorance, with fear, hatred and anger or with knowledge, wisdom and without anger. He laid great stress on performance of work in accordance to one’s intrinsic nature i.e. swa-dharma and stated that it can lead one to the state of self-realization. He also warns of ill-effects of not performing one’s own swa-dharma. Abraham Maslow also stressed on similar aspects in his self-actualization theory. Understanding of swa-dharma concept in light of self-actualization theory confirms our faith in ancient spiritual wisdom and makes us realize its relevance in present modern times. It is as relevant to people working in business organizations as it was for Arjuna in the battlefield of Kurushetra.


Aurobindo, Sri (2010). Gita Ki Bhumika. Pondicherry: Shri Aurobindo Ashram. 

Fleming H. John & Jim Asplund (2007). Human Sigma. New York: Gallup Press 

Maslow, A. (1999). Toward a psychology of being 3d ed.). New York: John Wiley & Sons.

Maslow, A. (1987). Motivation and personality.  India: Dorling Kindersley Publishing Inc.

Maslow, A. (1971). The farther reaches of human nature . New York: Viking Press.

Maslow, A. (1994). Religion, values and peak experiences. New York: Viking Press.

Maslow, A. (1998). Maslow on Management. New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Miller, Barbara Stoler (1986). The Bhagavad-Gita. New York: Bantam Books.

Is Nishkam-Karma Possible?

Work has always been a prime element in human life. It is through work that we meet out our physiological, mental and social needs which are necessary for survival and growth. However, in addition to these needs, there is one more dimension attached to the work. That dimension is called the spiritual dimension. 

Bhagavad-Gita clarifies beautifully “how” one should do one’s work or in other words, what should be the attitude towards one’s work. That attitude which Gita calls for is called the attitude of nishkam-karma. Nishkam-karma means having no desire for the fruits of one’s work. Whatever the results maybe explains the Gita, be not attached to it. Let the work be done for its own sake and not for the fulfillment of selfish ends because work done without attachment to its fruits leads to the attainment of the supreme divine.

तस्मादसक्तः सततं कार्यं कर्म समाचर ।
असक्तो ह्याचरन्कर्म परमाप्नोति पुरुषः ॥ 

                                     (गीता 3.19)

Psychologists say that no action is possible without any motive. That motive may be either in conscious or unconscious mind of the doer but motive has to be there. But Gita states that having any motive in work is the cause of bondage. This approach of Gita towards work has mesmerized many. However, Gita beautifully provides the answer to this dilemma. The answer to it lies in deep understanding of Vedanta philosophy.

एवमुक्त्वा हृषीकेशं गुडाकेशः परन्तप
योत्स्य इतिगोविन्दमुक्त्वा तूष्णीं बभूव

                                                                                  (गीता 2/9)

“I shall not fight” was the statement made by Arjuna in the battlefield of Kurushetra, bringing mysterious smile on Krishna’s face. The smile is mysterious because in it is hidden the answer to niskam-karma. Krishna explains to Arjuna that it is in ignorance you believe that you are the body-mind and going to fight and kill. “Know that with utmost clarity and faith that you and others with whom you are going to fight are the soul and soul neither kills nor it cannot be killed”.

एनं वेत्ति हन्तारं यश्चैनं मन्यते हतम्
उभौ तौ विजानीतो नायं हन्ति हन्यते

                                                                                    (गीता 2/19)

Krishna explains that this soul is immortal, ever existent and does not die when the body dies and encourages Arjuna to fight..

जायते म्रियते वा कदाचि-
न्नायं भूत्वा भविता वा भूयः
अजो नित्यः शाश्वतोऽयं पुराणो-
हन्यते हन्यमाने शरीरे   

                 (गीता 2/20)

अन्तवन्त इमे देहा नित्यस्योक्ताः शरीरिणः
अनाशिनोऽप्रमेयस्य तस्माद्युध्यस्व भारत   

                               (गीता 2.18)


 Geeta says, the thought that “I shall not fight” is also erroneous because soul is a non-doer. All actions, mental or physical, even the body, mind and intellect are in the domain of prakriti (nature) and carried out by it.

प्रकृतेः क्रियमाणानि गुणैः कर्माणि सर्वशः
अहंकारविमूढात्मा कर्ताहमिति मन्यते

                                (गीता 3/27)

Krishna explains Arjuna; “you as a soul is non-doer of action so how can you fight, kill and desire? Give away such mistaken thoughts and guilt, rest peacefully in your soul and let nature do it works. Such person even if he kills, in reality does not kill.


प्रकृत्यैव कर्माणि क्रियमाणानि सर्वशः
यः पश्यति तथात्मानमकर्तारं पश्यति

                            (गीता 13.29)

यस्य नाहङ्कृतो भावो बुद्धिर्यस्य लिप्यते
हत्वापि इमाँल्लोकान्न हन्ति निबध्यते

                            (गीता 18.17)

This was the knowledge imparted to Arjuna for being nishkam.  

This understanding given by Krishna in accordance to sankhya philosophy is simple and straightforward but difficult to comprehend, for the conditioning of mind has been very deep, existing since countless years. Soul attached to the ego of nature continues to think itself as the doer of all actions. Only a man of deep wisdom has the capacity to give away such erroneous thought. Krishna finding Arjuna still in dilemma, compassionately elaborated before him the second approach of being nishkam.  

“Vasudevam Sarvam” was the krishna’s second approach. Krishna says in Gita: “Arjuna know that all beings and non-beings exist in me and I exist in them. Know that I am the true source of all that there is and is the supreme doer. Nothing exists without me and I am all pervading”.

अहं सर्वस्य प्रभवो मत्तः सर्वं प्रवर्तते

                         (गीता 10.8)

“Be my instrument, play your role unattached in this wheel of existence. Surrender unto me all that you do, free from desires, fight and be established in yoga”.

निमित्तमात्रं भव सव्यसाचिन्

                    (गीता 11.33)

चेतसा सर्वकर्माणि मयि सन्न्यस्य मत्परः।
बुद्धियोगमुपाश्रित्य मच्चित्तः सततं भव॥

                            (गीता 18.57)

मयि सर्वाणि कर्माणि सन्नयस्याध्यात्मचेतसा
निराशीर्निर्ममो भूत्वा युध्यस्व विगतज्वरः

                                 (गीता 3.30)

“Yogesth Kuru Karmani” meaning, “be firmly established in yoga and carry out the work”; is the central message of the Bhagavad-Gita. A person who attains the state of evenness of mind is said to be in yoga (samatvam yogah uchyte).  Only a yogic mind can realize the non-doer nature of the eternal soul and be desireless. Krishna’s both the approaches towards being nishkam points to realization of only one fact that you are not the doer. Know it undoubtedly that you are the soul and its nature being of a non-doer or know that Krishna is the supreme lord of the entire existence and is the only doer.   

Thus it can be concluded that not only the desire for the fruits of one’s action has to be given up but the wrong belief of one being the doer of actions is also to be given up. Only then a person can have the attitude of being nishkam in his works. Works thus done have the capacity of purifying the mind and over the period of time leads one to the state of self-realization and freedom from the bondage of birth and death; the ultimate goal of human life.